The Origins of Satan

Satan first appears in the Book of Numbers as an angel supporting the work of the gods or spirits of the shaman (or diviner), Balaam. We can trace him right through the mythology of the Hebrews until he ends up as the Hammer Horror character he is today — for which we can blame the usual suspects: Hollywood, the Roman Catholic Church and the advertising industry.

So who was this Satan angel and why did he appear to Balaam?

The story is set at a time when the Israelites had just come out of their 40 year wander around the Wilderness, and they had already conquered two kings. The king of Moab knew he was next on the list, and possibly because he didn’t want to face the Israelites in battle, came up with a cunning plan. He sent messengers to Balaam with all sorts of inducements for him to put a curse on the Children of Israel.

Balaam’s spirits (gods) were having none of this, and refused. So the king of Moab sent even further bribes, entreaties and outright blackmail Balaam’s way and so, in the end, our shaman was tempted to agree, and he did what no shaman should ever do. He set off on his ass to perform the curse without the permission of his spirit guides.

However, no sooner had Balaam got going down the road but “the satan” angel spirit stood in his path, barring the way. Balaam couldn’t see the satan, but his ass, obviously with much greater sensitivity and perception, could. So because the ass was rivetted by this terrifying shining apparition up ahead, he refused to budge. (And by the way, this story also comes from a time when angels were not the twee little fairy-like white-winged creatures which we hang on Christmas trees today. They were huge and often very fierce looking, as was the satan angel).

Balaam and the angel by Gustav Jaeger

In today’s Old Testament, it is written that it is God’s advice that Balaam was ignoring. But it is well understood that during the course of the many and varied rewritings and re-presenting of these stories to suit differing political purposes, especially the move from polytheism to monotheism, the terms ‘the gods’ was transcribed to ‘God’, thus causing no amount of confusion down the millennia.

It’s also interesting to note ~ knowing as we do that many of these originally orally transmitted stories began as astronomical metaphors and allegories ~ the similarity of the words ‘satan’ and ‘Saturn’. As anyone interested in astrology will already know, if you get Saturn in your horoscope then you can expect to be obstructed at just about every turn as you try to pursue your life plans, just as the satan spirit obstructed Balaam.

“Saturn’s action is principally binding, chastening, chronic, cold, crystallising, denuding, hardening, depleting, hindering, limiting, magnetic, obstructing, retarding and suppressing,” says traditional astrologer Peter Stockinger.

He continues:

“Also known as Kronos, or Cronos, Saturn is known as the malefic and “The Greater Infortune”. However, Saturn in himself is not evil, but is chastening, corrective and untiring in his efforts to arouse humanity to better and right living, and by bringing sorrow, suffering, sickness, trials and tribulations upon people that they may learn by their experience and reap what they sow.”

Perhaps, for this reason, Saturn is also known as “The Reaper”, “The Tester”, “The Chastener” and “The Initiator”, as poor old Job experienced.

The story of Job

In the old Torah story of Job, it is ‘the satan’ who is causing no end of trouble for Job in his life. In fact, the story of Job reads just like a shaman initiation story. The spirits do sometimes cause what appears to the poor trainee shaman to be havoc in their life. It certainly has the net effect of obstructing any course towards a ‘normal life’, before he surrenders to his vocation. This has been recorded by Mircea Eliade in his book Shamanism:Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, a compilation of anthropologists’ interviews with shamans worldwide at the end of the 19th century.

Over the course of thousands of years, we can chart this gradual deterioration of the character of the satan angel, who was just doing its job. In this 19th century painting by William Blake, we can see the beginnings of Count Dracula’s bat-winged cape.

Satan smiting Job with boils

And it didn’t take long for the collective subconscious to produce this, albeit through the artist Edward Gorey.

But we don’t need to believe in astrology or shamanism or even the spirits to appreciate this disservice that has been done to Satan; we just need to be aware of the metaphors that pervaded mythological thought across the civilised world during the late Neolithic period. These metaphors were transmitted through the collective subconscious in the form of symbols and archetypes. The subconscious mind is an enormous driver of our thoughts, words and deeds.

Even today, our subconscious mind is driven by symbols and archetypes from a belief system which our conscious mind no longer has any knowledge of, although that doesn’t prevent advertisers using them successfully in convincing us to buy a pile of stuff we don’t need.

However, it’s interesting to study the history of these archetypes in mythology, because then we eventually realise what a bunch of old pap we’re being sold — whether by religion, politics, marketing or the media — and can just politely hand it straight back to them.


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